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  • Gareth Crook

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) - 6/10

Two-Lane Blacktop starts with the roar of engines. It’s dark and guttural. We’re in the world of illegal drag racing in 60s America. Cars souped up to outrun each other and the cops. It’s not the Hollywood Rebel Without a Cause version though, great as that film is, this is much dirtier, much more visceral. It’s a film aimed at the characters it portrays. Off the grid drop outs and local petrolheads with a passion for horsepower. I’ve never really seen the point of drag racing, but Americans don’t like corners when racing do they. Not keen on turning the wheel. This feels authentic though. The Driver (James Taylor, yes that one) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson, again that one) are headed east, betting on drag races they enter to make enough to fuel themselves and the car. Chatty they are not. Dialogue is sparse. Why talk when a nod or a look will suffice and that sums up Two-Lane Blacktop, there’s no fluff. Most people don’t even have names! When they pick up a girl (Laurie Bird) …or rather she openly helps herself to a ride, she provides much of the hippy driven premise. It’s all about the cars though. Their Chevy it has to be said looks like a piece of crap, but that’s the hook, looks are deceiving. It’s their secret weapon against the competition. Or is it really anything to do with cars at all or are they just a vehicular (sorry) metaphor for americas social structure. When they come across GTO (Warren Oats) in his flashy GTO with its perfect paint job, there seems a clash of cultures. GTO is put out being challenged by the junkyard Chevy and agrees to a race to Washington DC, winner takes the cars. This isn’t any regular race though, more of a trip, in keeping with the times and before long the relationships, odd as they are, begin to build. GTO has a past, has issues, a million fantasised stories, has reasons for being on the road. Maybe they all do, but we get little from Driver and Mechanic other than they’re fair and honourable. There’s a cameo from Harry Dean Stanton, as one of many hitchhikers that help provide just enough entertaining plot points on the way to keep its lazy pacing on the road and it’s worth watching for James Taylor alone. I’m not sure it’s a great film, but it’s good and feels like a time capsule to an ideology. Those outside the small town mentality of America, just trying to do their thing… man. Plus there’s some cool cars.



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